A group of 40 Cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, traveled to central New Jersey for an afternoon of hands-on construction and engineering learning at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Green Brook Flood Risk Management Project.
The Cadets, led by instructors, were senior civil engineering students enrolled in CE 401 ─ Civil Engineering Professional Practice and Applications at West Point, a well-known military academy north of New York City. CE 401 focuses, in part, on the Army Design Methodology to address complex problems. The site inspection is a partnership between the Army Corps’ New York District and West Point and part of a group project where students assume control of a real-world engineering project and present to instructors upon conclusion.
Army Corps Capt. Kevin T. Park, deputy resident engineer at the New York District’s Southern Resident Office in New Jersey, said: “Cadets benefit greatly from this type of hands-on learning. It takes them from the classroom into active construction zones where challenges present themselves daily ─ broadening their perspective about complex engineering challenges and how to solve them.”
Prior to inspection, Cadets, their instructors and officials from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) gathered at the site for a briefing from Army Corps Project Managers Alek Petersen, Roy Messaros, and Dag Madara. Cadets learned the Green Brook project is a major civil works initiative to manage flood risk in an area encompassing 65 square miles. (In 2007, torrential rains flooded Green Brook’s business district under 15 feet of water, causing extensive damage.)
Wearing full protective gear, Cadets then walked the active site for a close-up view of construction and questions and answers from construction professionals.
The inspection focused on a new railroad culvert under construction (a culvert is a tunnel structure enclosed by soil/ground and placed under roadways/railways to provide drainage). In this case, an 850-ton box culvert will be placed under New Jersey Transit’s Raritan Valley Line next month, a major commuter rail line into New York City. The massive cast-in-place culvert will be lifted hydraulically and moved into place within the railroad embankment within the space of two days.
After the inspection, Cadets split into groups visiting different parts of the project encompassing 13 municipalities in an urban/industrialized area (Messaros led his group to the lower basin; Petersen to the upper basin, respectively.)
At one stop Messaros took Cadets to the top of a levee and engaged them in a discussion of open-channel hydraulics ─ flowing water whose surface is exposed to the elements such as streams, rivers and culverts. A question-and-answer session included flood-control concepts incorporated into the design of an adjacent apartment complex to reduce damage from flooding.
Flood Wall & Pump Station
Next was a floodwall, levee, and pump station along the Raritan River ─ a major river in central New Jersey draining a mountainous part of the state and emptying into Raritan Bay on the Atlantic Ocean. (A pump station uses high-volume pumps to transport flood waters out from low-lying areas after a storm.) Cadets learned that during a storm in 2011, the line of protection held back flood waters that would have caused extensive damage to the community. The group also discussed project authorization, risk and uncertainty.
Petersen then led his group to Stony Brook where severe flooding from a storm in 1973 precipitated the need for the project. Discussion focused on preliminary studies, reports and the need to construct flood-control features in the area.
The final stop was the Oakway and Skytop area where detention basins were originally planned to be built. (Detention basins are excavated areas near rivers, streams and lakes that collect stormwater runoff; in some cases, they store and slowly release water to prevent flooding.) Petersen explained that study findings ─ combined with other challenges ─ precluded constructing the basins and recommended alternate solutions.
Following tours, West Point instructors presented New York District personnel with West Point Challenge Coins, in recognition of their efforts.